4 Underrated Black Actresses Who Consistently Outshine Jennifer Lawrence

Lupita Nyong'o ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI FOR LANCÔMEThe previews for Jennifer Lawrence’s new movie Joy have been making me viscerally angry. I didn’t realize how much they were irritating me until I started letting out audible groans every time it came on. Somewhere between Silver Linings Playbook (2012)American Hustle (2013) and Serena (2014) I realized that if Jennifer Lawrence just changes her accent, wig, and jacket it’s a new movie. Nine times out of ten, the movie features Bradley Cooper. And in her deviations from this formula, like her roles in Hunger Games and the X-Men series, her performances have been uninspired.

Just for being the lead White girl in these movies, Lawrence has been awarded an Oscar, 2 Golden Globes, 2 SAG awards, and a ton of nominations. Meanwhile, young Black actresses – with arguably more talent – often go relatively unrecognized for their work.

Here are the actresses that should be getting more shine.

1. Lupita Nyong’o

Nyong’o received an Oscar and a SAG award for her role as “Patsy” in 12 Years a Slave (2013). Since then, she was in Eclipsed on Broadway and has been filming for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And despite being the fashion industry’s darling and scoring an ad campaign with both Lancome, her face hasn’t been front and center on the big screen since 12 Years. Maybe she needs her own personal Bradley Cooper to really get put on.

2.Teyonah Parris

Another actress  moving audiences with her raw, powerful performances, Parris has been in the game for years. Her TV credits include roles on The Good Wife, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Mad Men, and Survivor’s Remorse. And on film, she was a scene-stealer in Dear White People and a bright light in the center of the problematic Chi-Raq. With performances like her’s, you’d expect industry tastemakers to take notice, yet the current sentiment seems to be that there is no room for her at the table.

3. Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Ms. Mbatha-Raw’s earliest film credit is from way back in 2005, and her star has been on a steady rise ever since. But despite leading a drama series with Boris Kodjoe on NBC (Undercovers), leading two successive critically acclaimed films (Belle and Beyond the Lights), and taking part in industry darling Concussion with Will Smith, she has yet to become a household name. While it’s great to see her commanding screens again and again, for some reason she has only be rewarded with a sequence of snubs come award season.

4. Tessa Thompson

Dear White People was a film making monster chock full of black talent, and Tessa Thompson was the spearhead of it all. She handled that role with finesse and went on to be featured in the likes of Selma and Creed. But she didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. Thompson has a long list of credits to her name, from TV series like Heroes and 666 Park Avenue to films like When a Stranger Calls and For Colored Girls. Thompson has a knack for infusing her characters with uncanny nuance, the same nuance that has seemed to be absent from Lawrence’s high profile castings.

Who are the Black actresses that you feel are underrated and in need of more shine? Let us know in the comments section below.

Photo credit: Alexi Lubomirski for Lancome

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.

7 Responses

  1. Shawna says:

    Hope you had a Merry Christmas! I love all the actresses you named here and I hope to see more of them in 2016 as 2015 proved to be a year where we saw many more roles awarded to black women and other women of color.

    As a parent of a teen, I’ve seen my share of ‘Hunger Games’ movies and while I don’t find Jennifer Lawrence ‘ s performances to be ‘less than’ compared to others, that series is not as appealing to me as ‘Divergent’. What I have learned to appreciate about Jennifer is that she inspires women to be big and take their rightful place in their chosen professions including asking for big dollars, equal to her male peers, without apology. I’m for that all day long. I’m being underpaid and treated differently than my male coworkers. I’m fighting to make it right.

    I’ll just say I plan to see ‘Joy’ because of the story, a woman who dreams of being greater in this world than they see her. And, if it’s any consolation, the best friend in South LA, who happens to black, saw it and she says it’s really good. So, it got a thumbs up in my circle.

  2. Cassandra Johnson says:

    I actually agree. If I had to name some more, my first would be Jurnee Smollet! I have been a fan of hers since Eve’s Bayou. Amazing actress with only an Emmy for her role in a television series.

    Shawna (who commented), just because someone black likes a movie with Jennifer Lawrence in it, doesn’t negate what Darren has said here. It’s fine for you to be a fan & the reasons why you like her are your reasons. I have seen most of the movies she’s been in and never once have the words “she is a really good actress” come from my mouth while watching her in action. Up until reading this article, I actually didn’t know her name nor look it up – which I tend to do watching almost every movie & tv show I see. There are plenty of actresses, yes even black ones, that have the same “qualities” you state as reasons why you like JL. Yet they don’t receive the recognition JL has or typically get cast in roles like JL.

    If we are being honest, I’m pretty sure that the Hunger Games books never explicitly said that Katniss was white, but she was cast as white – more than likely because that’s the default. It’s a role that had potential beyond what JL brought to the role, yet there were very significant subliminal messages communicated by that movie. Those include:

    1. The post-war world has very few black people and even fewer Latinos & Asians. WE apparently don’t survive despite surviving slavery, apartheid, segregation, anti-immigrant initiatives, rape, marginalization, etc. I’m sure I don’t need to recount all of the things done to our people to get rid of them.

    2. Lenny Kravitz, the intelligent brother in the wheelchair (rendered almost defenseless by this disability), the sister running the refugee hospital & two kids from the same district were the only speaking black actors in the movies yet they all die at some point in the movies. If I’m missing any, I’ve seen the movies several times, so that means their roles were not significant.

    3. The capital is full of RICH, INDULGENT, BARBARIC white people, run by a ruthless white male, and every one else is relegated to the districts with food rationing & an annual killing of poor children by putting them against each other for better position for SPORT! So, poor people are expendable in that world.

    4. Let’s move to Divergent… ask yourself this… aside from Zoe Kravitz, name a black actor/actress that played a significant role in the movie. Hispanic? One Asian for sure… again, a leading female role that could’ve been cast as a black woman, but wasn’t – see the reason I provided above.

    5. People are separated by role in the Divergent & Insurgent movies. It’s pretty clear that the post-war Chicago (which currently has very different demographics than seen in the movie) is again, overwhelmingly white. See the underlying theme here?

    I’m going to stop there. What I really want is for people to stop defending the RACIST society we live in. There is no such thing as people being “color blind” in this society when it comes to race/ethnicity. The outcry over a black woman being cast as the grown up Hermione in the next Harry Potter movie demonstrated that. Even JK Rowling said the book describes Hermione but never as white… in fact, her description in the books is more black than white, but “Hollywood” cast her as white from the start. The fact that someone came to “defend” why they like JL speaks volumes to white privilege – i.e. don’t talk against our precious girl despite that she is doing nothing different than the black actresses besides getting cast in major movies instead of ignored.

    It’s not easy AT ALL for Black, Hispanic AND Asian women in Hollywood. Can you for one second even imagine what it must be & feel like to play a hypersexualized slave for an amazing Black woman?!? For a strong Hispanic actress to play a hypersexualized fiery/spicy maid over and over again? Or an Asian woman to have to play the hypersexualized docile, obedient, wait-on-him hand-and-foot role? Their roles in movies & tv shows should be just as diverse and empowering as WE ARE in real life! **gasp & insert sarcasm** What a novel concept!!!

    Darren, your point is eloquently made here! Something has got to give because I’m tired of confusing JL with the young women who play Jessie (Hey Jessie!) and Teddy (Good Luck Charlie) from the Disney Channel all the time. Or maybe I’m just tired of seeing her face with different hair. Either way, there needs to be a changing of the guards of sort… that would be a good start.

  3. Mary Burrell says:

    I totally agree I am so underwhelmed by her as an actress. Teyonnah Paris is very impressive and is just as talented.

  4. domseekingfem says:

    What we may want to do as a race of people is to “not” be the crab that grabs other crabs headed to the top; back down into the boiling water. We can easily “promote, push, encourage, give props to, love, assist ALL of our male and female actors/actresses, barbers, bakers, teachers, tow booth workers, singers, servers, drivers, divers, cooks, cashiers, fixers, fashionist, nurses, Drs., janitors, musicians; you get the point!!! -:)) Can’t we just do that and not compare out?

  5. D Jackson says:

    I’m all for supporting talent and achievement, but Hollywood is a broken system meant to reward and discourage those aspiring to build careers based on arbitrary and commonly racist views and practices. Just like a recent post I wrote about Adele, this is not to blast these people as no talent hacks that should go be hermits somewhere. The goal here is to point out the many hardworking individuals that get far less promotion, opportunities, and awards despite their overabundance of talent and ability. The only way to adequately shine a light on this issue is to compare.

  6. domseekingfem says:

    Oh nar Jackson I most certainly did not to have you think I was referring to you being tat crab that pulls other crabs back into the boiling water. Believe, I did not miss your point by long nor short shot. Those who differ in their opinions have not “experienced” those drawbacks / holdbacks/ “denyALATIONS” (no such word but you get it – right) based on everything except “talent N ability. I understand, one’s opinion is just as it is “an opinion”; we both know it does not hold a candle to those who “experience” such practices. It’s called, REALITY. And truthfully, not to brand them with “deny and lie” because many of them “just can not SEE it – they are “blind” to it because it does not “touch their lives in any negative form or fashion”. They feel “ISIS” though; and are not blind to that fearful fact. Thing about that which scares me silly yet causes me to wonder is; why those folk do not “get it” that heart if ISIS resides right here in “this country”!!! Yes, it does because many of us have lived in fear daily for our lives (past and present); today it is a “new method”; cops killing us but “other folk” for the most part live not with that fear – they are automatically removed from it and they “know” it. We have become so accustomed to it; it is “normal” for us to reside in a “specific mental state” because of the centuries of abuse, misuse, neglect and pure hatred from “some folk”. Oh this is not so? Then tell me why and how the 12 year old kid was “murdered” because he had a play gun (cops did not know if he was pulling something out to show them or throw away; they did not even know IF it was a gun but he was a kid. Now, here we have a full grown middle aged Caucasian female who pulls out a real gun (cops don’t know if it’s real or play – right); she POINTS it at the COPS and is not gunned down. Why? Not that I wanted her to be, not at all. I am displaying the strong difference in how cops handle situations / people in accordance to “the SHADE of skin their body is clothed in” as in – what they LOOK like on the outside”. They began “talking to her”; they could have spoken to Tamir Rice – asked him questions. Instead, they CHOSE as in OPTED to SHOOT HIM DOWN!!! Screw that; one can NOT “DENY what one LIVES”!

  7. Dusty Ayres says:

    I’m sorry, but my tinfoil hat translator isn’t working-can you speak up again?

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